Unacknowledged problems with the concept of causation plague philosophical debates. Take, for instance, the issue of the causal closure of the physical world. This seems to require that first person experience must be either epiphenomenal (no causal impact) or, if we insist it can cause, we are left with interactionist dualism (which fails because it has no plausible way to connect the physical and non-physical worlds).
This is the heart of the free/will determinism debate. To say a human has free will, we must reject causal closure or find some way to redefine free will to make it seem compatible with determinism.
The real problem is that we do not have an adequate concept of causality which fits the true workings of the natural world (of which humans are a part!)
In many of these debates, it seems pretty clear that people on both sides have in their minds a causality based on something like classical mechanics. While there is a philosophical literature on causation which highlights the controversies surrounding the concept, I rarely see it invoked in philosophy of mind or free will discussions. The notable recent exception I’ve discussed here is Gregg Rosenberg’s book, A Place For Consciousness, which presents a detailed new theory of causality and connects it to the body/mind problem. I'll be going through the book soon for a third time and will continue to assess its causal model.
Here are 3 reasons to think we need a new treatment of causality:
1. Quantum mechanics has overthrown the classical picture, but when philosophers bring it into the discussion, they oversimplify by assuming it is a simple probabilistic version of the classical.
2. Complex non-linear systems resist reduction to classical causation, but no one has offered a new explanation, except to say higher level features somehow emerge.
3. Remember also the difficulty we have of finding an explanation of the asymmetrical "flow" of time, in which causality takes place. This concept is not part of the laws of mechanics. While time asymmetry arises in the 2nd law of thermodynamics, this statistical law dangles unconnected to the other laws of physics.
Let’s start with the case of QM, where the causal process is indeed richer than the classical one. We have a unitary process of evolution described by the wave function, and then we have a second process: measurement. There is obviously more going on here than in the classical picture of billiard ball ‘A’ effecting billiard ball “B”. One or both systems involved in a measurement need to have an additional (natural) property in order to have a quantum causal event. This “ability to measure” or “ability to observe” or “ability to receive information” property is an integral part of the picture.
A new concept of causality should make this “ability to measure” property explicit and work out the role it plays in construction of natural systems, including complex macroscopic ones like us.
With regard to complex systems, they appear to manifest a binding or coordinating dimension to causation which supplements classical micro-causation of the parts of the system. A new theory should include an explanation of this phenomenon.
With regard to time, all the evidence shows that the asymmetrical flow of time and causality is an consequence of the first person perspective, rather than an objective feature of nature. A new theory of causation should show how the causal interactions of an individual system constitute the flow of time.
The best case is that these 3 requirements come together in a new theory. The theory would explain how a natural system implements quantum events, coordinates them, and generates a system-relative flow of time.